LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Rams’ offensive starters will open the regular season without having played a single snap in the preseason. The defensive starters will have played seven.
Rams coach Sean McVay kept Jared Goff, Todd Gurley and the rest of the offense on the sideline for a third consecutive preseason game Saturday, and the group will not play in the preseason finale Thursday at New Orleans.
McVay acknowledged the plan “might not be for everybody,” but called it the best decision for the Rams.
“It's an imperfect deal,” McVay said. “But this is the decision that we felt like we wanted to make.”
Offensive starters sat in the preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens after participating in two joint practices, and they did not play in the second preseason game against the Oakland Raiders with the teams set to meet in the regular-season opener.
McVay planned for Goff and the starters -- with the exception of veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan -- to play against the Houston Texans, but that plan was foiled after right tackle Rob Havenstein tweaked his ankle during the practice week. Simply, McVay refused to play Goff behind three backup linemen against a defense featuring J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
“Want to get to that first game in Oakland healthy and ready to go,” McVay said. “And we're giving ourselves a chance to do that.”
As for the Rams’ defense, the unit underwent an extensive offseason makeover in an effort to improve personnel fits for Wade Phillips’ 3-4 scheme.
McVay planned for the new-look defense to play up to three series against the Texans, but called it a day after the unit forced a three-and-out in the first series and the second series ended with Ndamukong Suh laying a monstrous hit on quarterback Deshaun Watson as Watson launched a pass that Lamarcus Joyner intercepted.
“The way the guys came out ready to go was exactly what we had hoped for,” McVay said.
Here’s a look at the defensive starters and how they fared against the Texans:
DT Ndamukong Suh: Suh started at nose tackle and delivered a punishing hit on Watson as he lofted a deep pass that was intercepted. Suh said it was a “decent showing” by the defense.
DT Ethan Westbrooks: Westbrooks has started all three preseason games in place of Aaron Donald as the star defensive tackle continues to hold out for a new contract. Westbrooks recorded a quarterback hit and a tackle for a loss against the Texans.
DE Michael Brockers: Brockers combined with Samson Ebukam to tackle running back Lamar Miller on first down after a four-yard gain. This will be Brockers’ second season starting at end in Phillips’ scheme.
OLB Samson Ebukam: Ebukam is the lone defensive starter to play throughout the preseason, totaling 64 snaps and consistently pressuring the quarterback. He played 30 snaps against the Texans and finished with a tackle assist. Ebukam said he was able to play “a lot more free, a lot more relaxed, a lot more confident” with the starters.
OLB Matt Longacre: Longacre’s playing time through training camp was limited as he has been eased into action after undergoing season-ending back surgery last December. Longacre played 11 snaps against the Texans and sacked backup quarterback Brandon Weeden for a five-yard loss.
LB Cory Littleton: Littleton is the new starter at inside linebacker after the Rams traded veteran Alec Ogletree to the New York Giants. He recorded a tackle against the Texans, but more importantly gained some game-time experience relaying playcalls to the defense. “He’s on top of all of his duties,” safety John Johnson said. “You can just tell he’s so comfortable out there.”
LB Ramik Wilson: Wilson is among backups who have played in the preseason in place of a starter. In this case, it’s Mark Barron, who has been very limited throughout the offseason program with what McVay called "a couple of things" but is expected to be ready for the season opener. Wilson recorded three tackles against the Texans.
CB Aqib Talib: Talib said earlier in the week that it would be important for the secondary to get some full-speed reps with each other. The group got seven, and Watson never targeted Talib’s receiver.
CB Marcus Peters: Peters’ receiver was not targeted, but his communication with other members of the secondary was apparent through two series.
SS John Johnson: Johnson tackled DeAndre Hopkins after a 4-yard reception on the first play of the game. Johnson said “it went well” playing with new members of the secondary, but added that he “couldn’t really feel the difference” playing with Peters and Talib given they were only on the field for seven snaps.
FS Lamarcus Joyner: Joyner, playing this season on the franchise tag, effectively ended the day for the starting defense when he intercepted a deep pass from Watson.